Like most sequels, the second installment of the U.S. Patriot Act is worse than the original.
While the Patriot Act greatly broadened the government’s powers to spy on Americans, Patriot II comes the closest to creating a police state since the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Officially titled “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003,” Patriot II is the latest effort by the Bush administration to roll back civil liberties and expand the powers of the federal government.
The bill greatly reduces the role of federal courts in overseeing wiretapping and other surveillance, and includes provisions to limit the amount of information that reaches the public.
The most frightening part of Patriot II is the broad powers it gives the government to target individuals and organizations for surveillance and detainment.
President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have already moved in that direction by declaring citizens like Jose Padilla to be “enemy combatants,” who do not have the right to trial or consultation with an attorney.
Patriot II takes this a step further by allowing the government to declare individuals to be “foreign powers.”
What qualifies a person to be a foreign power?
According to Patriot II, besides terrorist activity, any activity, legal or illegal, that aids a foreign power qualifies a person as an “agent of a foreign power.”
Because a person or group can be a foreign power, this means that membership in an organization, or association with an individual can make one a terrorist.
Temple’s Radical Education Collective, the campus’ leading anti-war movement, could be deemed a terrorist group.
Its members could be arrested and stripped of their citizenship simply because they belong to this organization.
Bush has already demonstrated his willingness to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens as enemy combatants, and it is likely that the same courtesy will be extended to “foreign power” individuals.
Under Patriot II, it would also be illegal for the government to disclose any
information about detainees, until they are indicted on criminal charges.
Since these prisoners are unlikely to ever receive a trial, the point is moot.
This is tantamount to creating a secret judicial system.
The government could detain a person indefinitely and refuse to disclose who is being held, leaving anguished people to search in vain for their missing family members.
Many fascist dictatorships in Latin America used this tactic during the 1980s, and some mothers are still searching for their children.
Patriot II also includes breathtaking expansion of the government’s power to spy on citizens.
In most cases, when a person is targeted for electronic surveillance, such as phone wiretapping, a court has to approve the surveillance and then review the approval every 30-90 days.
Patriot II lengthens the period between the reviews to 120-365 days.
Because the “foreign power” designation makes it easier to acquire a surveillance order, this extension of time effectively eliminates the role of the court system.
These limitations were first imposed to correct the abuses of the FBI in spying on leftist organizations in the ’50s and ’60s.
In addition, Patriot II terminates most local law enforcement “consent decrees” dated before Sept. 11, 2001. Consent decrees were agreements by local police not to spy on organizations within their jurisdictions.
The New York City Police Department is especially notorious for spying on civil rights groups and leftist organizations. By terminating these decrees in the name of the war on terrorism, unrestricted spying activities will be resumed.
Although Patriot II is not yet before Congress for consideration, the draft, which was sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney in early January, represents the creation of an Orwellian state.
The government can spy on whomever it wants, and then secretly arrest and detain them for as long as it wants.
The draft contains many other provisions for the curtailment of civil liberties.
The first Patriot Act was passed as the public was distracted by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Congress and the public must remain vigilant that the looming war with Iraq does not serve as a cover for the swift passage of Patriot II.
For the full text of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, go to www.publicintegrity.org.
Brian White can be reached at email@example.com.